This isn’t Steely Dan, and There Ain’t No ‘Fagen’ It

By Devin Grant
Charleston Post and Courier

Morph The Cat
Donald Fagen

On the rare occasion that Donald Fagen decides to bless the music world with a solo release, it is cause for celebration among fans of his (also occasional) outfit, Steely Dan.

You see, Fagen’s solo outings might as well be Steely Dan recordings, and while Fagen’s partner in crime, Walter Becker, might not be part of the proceedings, his presence is never that far off. Becker even produced Fagen’s 1993 release, Kamakiriad, which (surprise, surprise) sounded like a Steely Dan album. But let’s be honest here. If Fagen released something that didn’t at least remind listeners of “Hey Nineteen” or “Bodhisattva,” there would be a revolt among his small army of jazz-rock geeks.

Morph the Cat is Fagen’s first release since Kamakiriad. From the first few notes of the album’s title track, it is clear that although Fagen is more than a decade older than on his last solo outing, his ability to write a funky pop hook hasn’t diminished even a smidgen. The entire album, while not quite a true concept album, does center most of its ideas on the theme of a post-9/11 America.

“The Night Belongs to Mona” tells the story of a woman afraid to leave her home after the 2001 terrorist attacks, while “Mary Shut the Door” doesn’t exactly mask its lyrical potshots at the current presidential administration.

But the outing isn’t all gloom-and-doom lyrics set to groovy ’70s rhythms. Just check out one of the CD’s best tracks, “Security Joan,” which finds Fagen enamored with a female airport security agent after she frisks him. There is also the interesting “What I Do,” which finds Fagen chatting up the ghost of Ray Charles.

The whole CD is another triumph for Fagen, and after a few listens to Morph the Cat, one really begins to understand why the artist takes so long between albums. No sense in talking until you have something to say. (A-)

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